Citi often sends out targeted “bonus points” offers on its cards around the time of renewal, when they want to entice you to pay a new annual fee. We recently received one of these offers and thought it was worth a quick article to examine the offer and how it’s structured, plus strategize about how to best use it.
Offer on Our Citi Prestige Card
Last week, we received a “bonus points” offer on our Citi Prestige card, via snail mail. The offer was structured as follows:
- Activate the offer online using a special 10-digit invitation number, at specialoffers.citicards.com
- Must activate by 4/15/2020 (a little less than 2 months after we received the offer)
- Earn 5x ThankYou Points (TYPs) per dollar spent at:
- Grocery stores
- Gas stations
- Mass transit & commuter transportation vendors
- Note that this is actually 4 bonus TYPs/dollar, in addition to the regular 1 TYP/dollar earning
- Cap of 2,500 TYPs ($500 in spend)
- Again, note that this is really just 2,000 bonus TYPs as you’d be earning 500 TYPs anyway
- The total earning of 2,500 TYPs would be worth about $31.25, at our baseline value of 1.25 cents per TYP
- And the 2,000 “bonus” TYPs would be worth about $25
- Promotion end date is 5/31/2020
Timing of the Bonus Offer
We received this offer shortly after the anniversary date on our Prestige card, but before receiving the statement on which the annual fee (AF) will post.
- Anniversary date = February 8
- Offer sent = February 15 (approximately; it was received on about February 20)
- Date of statement when AF will post = March 6
Activating the Bonus Offer
Activating the offer was easy. We simply went to the address provided in the mailer, specialoffers.citicards.com, where we saw this form:
We entered our 10-digit invitation number and clicked “Activate Now,” and presto, we were enrolled:
Strategy Consideration #1 – Can I Collect on This Bonus Even if I Plan to Cancel or Downgrade My Card?
We’re very much on the fence about whether to keep our Prestige card at its upcoming renewal, or whether we’ll downgrade/product-change it to another Citi card. That decision will be the subject of a more in-depth article to come within the next few weeks.[Note that we won’t cancel the Prestige card outright. Among other reasons, closing the account would reset our 24-month clock on getting a new sign-up bonus on a Prestige or Premier card. (The bonus restriction on the Premier card, for example, is if you received a new cardmember bonus for Rewards+, Preferred, Premier or Prestige, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the last 24 months.) We last received a sign-up bonus in early July 2018 and haven’t closed any accounts since then, so we’re getting close to becoming eligible again.]
The current bonus-points offer has 2 important terms that impact whether we can collect the bonus and still downgrade:
- Bonus TYPs “will be posted to the primary cardmember’s account in 1-2 billing cycles”; and
- “In order to qualify for this offer, the account must be open and current at all times. If our account is closed for any reason, including if you convert to another card product, you may no longer be eligible for this offer.”
In addition, it would be helpful to know Citi’s rules with respect to annual fee refunds. Doctor of Credit has a good article here:
- Doctor of Credit: Demystifying Citi Annual Fee Refund Policy (April 11, 2019)
Unfortunately, even with the DoC article, Citi’s handling of AF refunds is still a bit unclear. It appears that when DoC published the article in April 2019, you could get a full AF refund on the Prestige card if you canceled within 60 days from when the AF posted. However, a recent data point from commenter “KKR” (on 2/6/2020), combined with a similar comment from “chainsaw” about a different card (on 1/27/2020), suggests that Citi may have reduced the time period for a full refund on the Prestige AF, perhaps to 30 days. In other words, it’s clear as mud right now.
On the bright side, Citi issues pro-rated refunds if you product-change or even close a card during your cardholder year after you’ve paid the AF.
In our situation, if we were planning to close or downgrade, best-case scenario would be to meet the spend immediately and hope that the bonus points posted on the same March 6 statement as our annual fee. We know that bonus points from other Citi promotions, such as retention offers, have posted on the next-issued statement in the past, so there would seem to be a reasonable chance that the same could happen with this bonus offer.
Unless we do the spend immediately and the bonus points post on our coming March 6 statement, it looks like we’d have to make a decision to pay the AF, product-change or close before the bonus points posted.
Finally, we’d like to circle back to the term where Citi says that if you product change, you “may” no longer be eligible for this offer. It’s not exactly clear whether this means that you wouldn’t get the points if you’ve already met the spend, or whether you just wouldn’t be able to receive 5x any more after you convert to a different card. Also, it may make a difference whether you convert to a TYP-earning card versus converting to a non-TYP card issued by Citi, such as a co-branded American Airlines card.
At this point, it’s way too much time and effort to spend figuring out a bonus that’s worth $25-30!!!
Strategy Consideration #2 – How to Earn the Bonus Points?
Assuming that we’re going to do the bonus offer, how can we best utilize it?
First off, we note that the “bonus offer” categories are for spend where we already receive a nice bonus, so that the bonus offer doesn’t add much:
- Grocery stores – We can use an Amex Gold card at 4x Membership Rewards points.
- Gas stations – This quarter, we can use the Chase Freedom quarterly bonus for 5x Ultimate Rewards (UR) points. Beyond that, we could use our Chase Ink legacy card for 3x UR or Citi Premier for 3x TYPs.
- Drugstores – All of the drugstores we’ve visit (generally CVS or Walgreens) take Apple Pay, and we can use Apple Pay with our US Bank Altitude Reserve (USB AR) to earn 3x USB points.
- Mass transit & commuter transportation vendors – We can use Chase Sapphire Reserve or Ink Preferred for 3x UR, or Citi Premier for 3x TYPs.
Thus, if we’re going to use organic spend to hit this bonus, it will be a slow drip for minimal rewards in addition to what we’d be earning normally.
But, we see one avenue where we can increase our earnings – purchasing a Visa or Mastercard gift card at a drugstore. You don’t want to purchase a GC using Apple Pay/USB AR, because US Bank is notoriously sensitive to GC spend and this creates shutdown risk. Purchasing a GC at a drugstore also allows us to knock out the bonus in one fell swoop, so that we don’t have to think about it for months.
If we can buy a $500 VGC at a local CVS, we can earn the bonus TYPs all at once. The value of the TYPs we’ll earn (about $31.25) will easily exceed the activation + liquidation fees. We’ll probably also eventually get $5 cash back through our Payce in-store offer at CVS.
We’re going to execute on this strategy right away, and hope that the bonus points post on our March 6 statement!
This was a long and detailed article for a relatively small bonus. But we wanted to analyze the offer for Middle Age Miles readers and publish this. It seems to have become fairly commonplace for Citi to send out these kinds of “bonus points” offers around renewal time. We hope that the article willhelp you think through the issues when you’re presented with similar offers in the future.
Have you received similar “bonus points” offers from Citi around renewal time? Do you have relevant data points about the offers that would help other Middle Age Miles readers? If so, please share with us in the Comments!
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